Living With Past Infrastructure

by Don Friedman on June 2, 2016

In my recent discussion of the varying ages of different parts of the built environment, I used a railroad line in New Jersey as an example. Once infrastructure is built, it tends to hang around for a long time, which is why it’s worth building right.

Here in New York, we’re experiencing a boom in subway use that has the system approaching record levels of ridership. That’s great from the perspective of reducing energy use and keeping the center of the city less car-filled than most American cities. (It may not seem less car filled, but imagine how bad things would be if everyone in Manhattan were driving…) It’s less great, of course, from the perspective of riding on crowded trains.

A scary graph:

Changes in routes can and do happen, albeit slowly. So if we’re thinking in terms of decades (or centuries) than the design of major structures, their maintenance, and their repair all take on the characteristics of preservation engineering. The type of work that we do with ordinary buildings also has its place in long-term planning and analysis, where first cost is less important than life-cycle cost and the ability to maintain function.

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